Sunday, February 9, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Running Backs

Where the position stands now:

Coming into the 2013-2014 season the Panthers running back situation looked dire, at best. But suddenly it looks like a potential strength.

It begins with sophomore James Conner, a 6'2" 230 combination of elusiveness and bulldozering. Conner came out of nowhere as a true freshman to run for 799 yards, 8 TDs, and a 5.5 average. He should only get better and he has star potential. Paul Chryst has recently stated that Conner will play some defensive end in the upcoming season. Personally, I think that's a mistake but they didn't ask me for my opinion. Conner already takes a beating at running back, and he's too important to the offense. It also means that more has to be expected of his backups.

One of those backups is senior Isaac Bennett, who ran for 797 yards, 7 TDs, and a 4.7 average. His numbers may be close to Conner's numbers, but his talent is not. In fact, if incoming freshman Chris James lives up to his potential he may be the main back to give Conner a breather. At 5'9" and 210 pounds, James is a stocky gamebreaker. He would be a much better change of pace than Bennett, not to mention that he has the home run potential that Bennett, or Conner, does not.

Sophomore Rachid Ibrahim impressed with his quickness in his freshman season but if James takes over as the third down threat, Ibrahim may find himself without carries. On the bright side, if he does get phased out, he can move to the defensive backfield where his nice length and quickness could make him a nice safety.

The depth continues to get much better thanks to two more freshman. One, 6'1" 226 pound Qadree Ollison obviously has the size to make a difference. He also has pretty good speed. He may redshirt if things go well.  The other freshman will redshirt, and that's 5'11" 190 pound Dennis Briggs.


Future recruiting:

With Conner, James, and even Ollison already in the fold the chances of adding another top back is probably not very good. That doesn't mean the Panthers won't try, though. You can't ever have enough, especially when James and Ollison are not proven yet.  Luckily for them, there are three excellent prospects right in the state.

The best of the bunch is 5'9" 205 pound Andre Robinson of Bishop McDevitt HS in Harrisburg. He's very similar to James, which is another reason why he may not want to go to Pitt. Look for Penn State to make him a priority. The other two in-state backs are from the eastern part of the state. One, 5'11" 195 pound Saquon Barkley of Whitemarsh HS has already committed to Rutgers. But the talented Barkley has taken note of the recent recruiting problems at Rutgers, and has been a little more open. One of the schools he's now looking at more closely is Pitt.  Lastly is 6'2" 185 pound Josh Adams of Central Bucks South HS in Warrington. Adams is a dynamic athlete but he may also be outgrowing the position. Tall running backs are generally a bad idea because they're just too big of a target. That's why many expect that he'll end up at wide receiver. He also tore his ACL late last season so right now more schools are taking a little bit of a wait and see approach. Put all of those things together and I don't really think Pitt will even recruit him hard.  In summary, when looking at all of the info available, I don't see any of these three ending up at Pitt.

Outside of PA, elite prospects that Pitt is recruiting include 6'1" 220 pound Larry Scott of Hubbard (OH) HS, 5'10" 175 pound Taj Griffin of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA), and 5'8" 180 pound Tim Irvin of Westminster Christian HS (Palmetto Bay, FL).  All are big time running backs and Pitt isn't expected to be a major player with any of them.

But even though the Panthers likely won't land these backs, it's interesting to note the size of some of them. While it's assumed that Chryst prefers big backs that move the pile, for the 2015 class at least he's looking for some smaller, faster, quicker backs that can be a change of pace game breakers who can also be utilized in the passing game as well as special teams.

Two in-state backs that match that criteria are 5'9" 180 pound Olamide Zacceaus of St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia), and 5'9" 180 pound Nasir Bonner of Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia). Zacceaus already holds a Pitt offer, as well as offers from Miami and Temple. The Panthers have yet to make in person contact with him.  Bonner has offers from programs like West Virginia, Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Arizona State so it's a little surprising that Pitt hasn't offered yet, but they likely will.

An out of state back that the Panthers are interested in is 5'11" 220 pound Sekai Lindsay of Palm Bay HS (Melbourne, FL). The Panthers have yet to offer the fast bowling ball but he could make a nice addition to the unit.


Bottom line:  As long as Conner and James look good next season it will be difficult for the Panthers to land a topnotch running back.  Yes, elite running backs go to elite programs every year but Pitt isn't that at this time. Kids come to Pitt to play and if Pitt has a star sophomore running back with a freshman behind him that's also looking like a star, then the better backs will probably go elsewhere. If the Pitt backs do not look good next season then players like Robinson and maybe even Barkely could come into play.

Otherwise, as of now the most realistic possibilities are Zacceaus or Lindsay. But the Panthers have merely offered Zacceaus without really recruiting him hard yet, so if they don't do that soon then they probably aren't interested that much. Lindsay is more of the same kind of back that they have but right now his only offer is Cincinnati. If he gets no elite offers, and Pitt does offer and pursues him, then he may end up at Pitt, but that's a long way away.

To summarize, Pitt probably won't be desperate to land a top running back this season. A quick all-purpose back may be a nice addition, but otherwise they may find that convincing a top back to join a unit that already has top young backs to be a tough proposition. One more important thing to note is that Pitt is probably the favorite for elite 2016 running back Miles Sanders from Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh). With Conner, James, and Ollison, and the possibility of adding Sanders in the future, any added running back in this recruiting class would just be a nice bonus.

25 comments:

  1. I agree that it is not a good idea to use Conner at defensive end. But that obviously speaks to the fact that there are no real viable options either at the position. A sad state that likely won't be fixable with the defensive staff currently in place.

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  2. It wouldn't surprise me if Conner goes to DE fulltime. I think the combo of James and Ollison can take over with Bennett as change of pace or passing downs.
    Going both ways is ridiculous.
    Shows how pathetic the recruiting on defense has been.

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  3. Plenty of players have gone both ways and it's worked out well, but I am skeptical that this a wise move at this point. Maybe when he's a junior looking to NFL but not now. Seems like we need to see Ollison and James on the field before guaranteeing him defensive snaps. I'm also surprised that he's locked in to DE. Conner seems like a natural middle linebacker with his size and quickness.

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    1. Plenty of players have gone both ways? Name some this past season.
      I don't know of any.
      It's not HS you know!!!

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    2. Miles jack from UCLA comes to mind without even thinking hard.

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  4. I agree Conner is the proven RB but if the DEs are ineffective or injured, it isn't inconceivable that Conner gets time there especially on passing downs. I think Ibrahim is a hidden gem who with James and Bennett make a very capable triumvirate if necessary.

    bill

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  5. Keep an eye on Conner's weight this upcoming season. He was 6-2 230 and I wouldn't be shocked to see him put on some weight, and grow into that DE position. On offense he would be used more like Bettis was used late in his career. When teams know you are going to run it at them and he runs them right over. I think James can fill in quite nicely this year. It will play its own way out, but the best solution conner is a stud on defense and James is a stud on offense. My gut feeling is, the more you see Conner on D, the better Pitt is doing.

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    1. Pitt plans on running their RBs often next season, though, and to do that they are going to need Conner, James, and Bennett.

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    2. Agreed, and I think the success will have a lot more to do with the progress our line makes versus who is running the ball. I still think our line is about a year away, it should be better than last year though. The better the line plays, the more you will see James, Bennett, Ibrahim and possibly Ollison, and less of Conner. If the line struggles, they will be forced to put Conner in more to open up his own holes. If the line plays well, you can open up gaps for the smaller backs to still get yards with the potential to hit homeruns.

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    3. I don't know why people continue to underrate Conner as a running back. He's the best running back they have. Barring injury he will get the most carries next season.

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    4. I agree Chris. I'd keep Conner at RB, and not have him play defense. The kid's an animal who runs the football like it's his lunch money, and someone's trying to steal it.

      I think a combination of Conner and James has the potential to be very dangerous for the defenses and very exciting for Pitt fans.

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    5. I agree that Conner is a hard runner. I also agree that last year he was the best running back on the team by far. In high school, talent(speed more than anything else) plays such a huge part. a speedy and talented back can carry the rest of the team on his shoulders. In the NFL, unless your name is Adrian Peterson, it really isn't that huge of a difference between the starters and the backups. Systems, lines and opportunity play a lot more into success than actual talent. College is more of a mixed bag. There are guys with talent that stand out, there are guys who get the opportunity and can run with it because they are put in a good position and there are guys who it doesn't matter where they are and who they are running behind they just don't have it. Pitt is seemingly loading up with guys who have talent and guys who can take the ball and run with it given the opportunity. My view is more of one of optimism for what Pitt has at the RB position more so than anything negative to Conner. I love watching the guy play, I guess we will just see the way it plays out next year.

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  6. Hey Chris, you should at least give a shout out to the Pitt wrestling team. Ranked #6 and just won the ACC. Best team Pitt has.

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  7. Couple of developments which could make it very difficult for Pitt to win 6 games unless Pitt "UP's" their game.
    1. ACC going to 9 games.
    2. ACC and SEC game every year. Every team in conference will play each other.
    3. PSU game committment by Pitt.
    4. ND every 5 years or whatever that is.

    That will leave Pitt to 2 Non-Conf games. Very difficult to get 6 wins if this all comes to fruition with current coaching staff and recruiting abilities.

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    1. Really? People trash pitt with a bad schedule, now you want to look at the future as too tough? How about bigger games mean more national attention and better recruiting. You are writing them off years in advance before they even take the field. How about in a couple of years those teams dreading the game against the best line in college football!

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    2. I think if anything this will propel Pitt to try harder to compete.

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  8. Doke, another option could be Nick Coleman, 6'-175#. Listed as a DB but also plays RB can flat out fly (runs track). Same school as Kraig Howe.

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  9. Just a suggestion .( Coleman) Any news on WR coaching search.

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  10. Amazing how some are ready to relegate Conner to Defense and ASSUME James and Ollison are simply going to step right in and perform.

    Pitt got lucky with Conner. It's asking a lot to expect every Back they recruit to be AS GOOD at this level as they were in high school.

    PittofDreams

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    1. POD, Conner to the defense came right from the horses mouth after the bowl game, Chryst said he would try Conner at DE. James is a McCoy level talent should have no problem at the college game.

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    2. James is good... but not McCoy good.

      McCoy was the Top Rated High School Back in the Nation until his ankle injury late in his senior season.

      PittofDreams

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    3. He's not far behind, doesn't have the jitterbug moves but runs with more power.

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  11. Thoughts:

    - I don't see Conner playing as a DE next year. He's their starting RB.

    - I agree with Bill above, I too feel Ibrahim is a hidden gem. He's the fastest, most elusive back they have and should at least be their 3rd down back and might end up being the backup.

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  12. I think we're under estimating Ollison, he looks like a strong fast guy. I wouldn't be surprised if he over takes Bennett for the 3rd back. Bennett's been a good team guy and put together some nice games but he really lacks second level speed.

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